Keeping my Sanity by Losing my Mind: Mindful Mama Carnival Post

Welcome to the First Mindful Mama Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Blog Carnival hosted by Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Participants are writing posts about what mindful practices mean to them, how they parent mindfully, obstacles to mindful practice and experiences along the way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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When I was in high school, my mom raised mice in our basement. These weren’t feeder mice; these were fancy pet mice. Silkies with their shiny coats; Egyptian mice with their large, black eyes, reddish fur, and pointy little noses; English mice with their round ears and deep brown coats. At one point, we had more than 200 mice living in cages in our basement.

For the most part, mice are pretty quiet. Unless we got behind on cleaning their cages, they didn’t demand much attention. The exception was when their exercise wheels needed greasing. Four or more of these little guys would decide to run on the wheel at the same time, the fast ones tumbling the slow pokes up and over the little metal wheel while the wheel itself screamed and screamed so that we could hear it two floors up.

It was when I heard this wheel that I became aware of the presence of hundreds of mice in my home and that the presence of hundreds of mice in my home became unsettling.

I have a spastic hamster who lives in my head. He’s always up there nibbling and stuffing his cheeks, waiting for me to toss him a circuitous thought so he can take it and run with it in his squeaky little hamster wheel. When I feed this spastic hamster, my thoughts snowball. Something tiny, like a mouse running on a wheel, becomes something enormous and un-ignorable.

I’ve discovered that I can trust my emotions, but that if I let that hamster in my brain take off, the thoughts run wild and my bodily sensations become intense and totally disconnected from my conscious experience. I end up anxiously mentally traveling back in time trying to figure out what I might have eaten to make my stomach upset or moralizing about the glass of wine I had with dinner, convinced that’s why I’m in a cold sweat at 3am. I latch onto these thoughts as a comfort measure, but it isn’t comforting at all. In fact, it makes me feel worse physically at the same time that I feel worse emotionally.

The key is to get the hamster off the wheel. I think of this as losing my mind.

I do this by shifting the focus from my thoughts to the sensations in my body and allowing those to exist without judgment. I focus on my left toes or on the physical act of breathing or on the feeling of air against my exposed skin, and that helps remind me that I’m okay physically. (I’m alive, I’m breathing, I must be okay.) Bringing awareness to my body helps stop the snowball of my thoughts, which helps stop the increasing discomfort in my physical body (racing heart, upset stomach, cold sweats), which slows the thoughts. I separate my mind from my body by letting my thoughts alone while I focus on my body.

I began doing this in neutral situations for the practice. Then I applied the technique to negative situations and found that it’s much easier to avoid moralizing about my emotions when the hamster is quiet. Recently I’ve started focusing on body sensations in positive situations, like when I’m cuddling my son or when I’m watching my daughter on the soccer field, which helps me more fully experience the good feeling.

With the 24/7 presence of my family during our recent road trip, I’ve found this technique to be invaluable. I don’t always remember to do it, and it’s not always enough to keep me from yelling, but even my sporadic application of the technique has enhanced my enjoyment of our road trip and has decreased the frequency of my hypersensitivity-induced tantrums.

And that makes a week on the road and our cross-country mood—not to mention an indefinite period of time in a hotel room—more pleasant for all of us.

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Mindful Mama Blog CarnivalVisit TouchstoneZ to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

15 comments

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  4. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ · June 25, 2011

    This is a wonderful post for the carnival. Thank you so much for participating.

    This from my journal on Wednesday: I recently had an experience in yoga class, where the teacher had us in pigeon pose forevah! Part way through the post, she asked, “where are you holding this pose? Are you holding it in your jaw, your inner thigh, your shoulders? Let it go. Wherever you are holding. Let it go” And I was holding the post in a lot of places. I took this with me off the mat and now I ask myself the same question “where am I holding this?” It brings me into the present moment and helps me be mindful of emotions that I may/may not be aware of.

    Woo! Powerful stuff! Time to clean my cages!

    Oh, and is it bad that I’m tempted to nickname you “Snowball the Hamster” now? j/k

    Like

  5. Amanda · June 23, 2011

    I used to think hamsters were cute.

    Your post reminds me that I can help myself stay in the present moment a lot more than I am currently attempting. Thank you.

    Like

  6. Terri · June 23, 2011

    This sounds like Vipassana meditation – a style of meditation that focuses on observing the sensations of the body with calm equanimity – neither attaching to the ‘good’ nor repelling the ‘bad’ – well that’s my interpretive summary of it anyway and reading your post totally reminded me of it. I have used the technique on many occasions, infact I use it daily in our freezing cold shower reminding myself that it is just sensation (I actually enjoy it most days now)! But I love the idea of using it when holding the children and sinking into the total feeling of it, immersion in the moment – delightful (there I am attaching to the good stuff again :-)) I think I have a hamster, mice, squirrels, monkeys and probably a few elephants rattling about in my mind so thanks for the reminder to lose it once in a while!

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    • CJ · June 24, 2011

      I actually got the general idea from a psychologist and got a more detailed approach from a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Class I took, but both of those sources draw from multiple disciplines. The aha for me was how effective it was to actually bring my focus into my body rather than trying to go somewhere else, which was kind of what I was taught while pregnant for how to deal with labor (eg, finding an external focal point or going to a “happy place” or focusing on breath with the goal of reducing pain). It’s a tuning in rather than a tuning out.

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  7. One Rich Mother · June 23, 2011

    I love your post. I will take much from this, I love the idea of remembering how my body feels when I am in a loving and enjoyable situation.
    The idea of your mother’s mice has unsettled me though… lol

    Like

    • CJ · June 24, 2011

      Well, it is a bit unsettling in retrospect…:-)

      Like

  8. Rachael · June 23, 2011

    A hamster on a wheel! I love it!

    I call that chattering the “squirrels in my mind,” though I can’t really take credit for the metaphor; I stole it from a friend.

    And yes, bringing awareness into my body helps me let go of that chattering, too. I usually put my mind in my belly and watch my breath. Amazing how quickly it grounds me in the present.

    Like

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  13. Melissa · June 23, 2011

    I love your title, and the way you approach this subject. Sometimes I think I may have an entire family of hamsters, and quieting (or should I say losing?) my mind is not easy to do. This practice could be quite useful for me.

    Like

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